This is my body: Abortion and communion

By Michael Humphrey

“I have not made lightly this request of Governor Sebelius, but only after much prayer and reflection. The spiritually lethal message, communicated by our governor, as well as many other high profile Catholics in public life, has been in effect: ‘The church’s teaching on abortion is optional!'”

– Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann in his statement requesting, for the second time, that Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius refrain from communion, due to her open and public support for abortion rights.

There is no reason to doubt Archbishop Naumann. To make such a request is to me, and to many people I’ve spoken with, unimaginable.

Others, who know the bishop, have stated he is a man of good faith. He told the Leaven that he has received numerous responses to the decision both pro and con. He has made it clear that he won’t ask Eucharistic ministers to deny the governor communion, which is, it seems, a sign of good will.

In society in general, it’s not easy to say where you stand on abortion, partially because emotions do run so high. But I will say, so that my point is not lost in speculation. I happen to be the child of a woman who received great pressure to get an abortion, from her parents no less, because they did not want the disgrace of me being born out of wedlock. My mother obviously refused and eventually shared this story with me. Since then, every time this issue arises, I see from the perspective of the “the choice” or “the life” or whatever phrase you would choose. I am deeply troubled by abortion and oppose it as contraception, mainly because of this realization.

Some have rejoiced at the perceived comeuppance that the archbishop gave to the governor. Others are angry that the archbishop would focus so tightly on one life issue, rather than expanding the moral certitude to others.

Sadness is my response. When I think about abortion and communion together, I hear the words, “this is my body” and my mind splits three ways. This is my body, our communal truth; this is my body, a woman’s integrity; this my body, my life flashes before my eyes. And that split makes me sad.

Sad because even as strongly as I feel that all life is sacred, I cannot understand sacraments being injected into a political discussion. Political, I say, because I have never met a Catholic who praises abortion as a social good and I know Sebelius is not that person. Political, because abortion opponents have sought far too much change from the halls of legislatures instead of finding root causes for the roughly 1 million abortions performed in the US each year. Sad because both political parties use this issue as a wedge, a way to draw in loyalists. Sad because this issue divides us enough without splitting the foundational act of our faith as well. I would not want the executioner, the war tactician, the interrogator who went too far, or even the criminal, to step away from our Lord’s table. What is most needed, not for them but for all of us, is grace. Eucharist is grace embodied.

I am fully aware that this opinion is outside Church teaching. But I am reminded of the work of Graham Greene, who has a priest say, “The Church knows all the rules. But it doesn’t know what goes on in a single human heart.” My reason and my soul cannot escape this question: If Christ were here, bread in hand, whom would he feed?

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4 Comments »

  1. mpatterson said

    Communion is not a reward for good behavior, if it was, I suspect a good number of us would be going hungry.

  2. rphalen said

    Excellent summary of issues that are misunderstood by so many Catholics today.

    I met many devout Catholics during my recent CFCA mission trip to Central America, and I urged my sponsored kids to grow in their Catholic faith. In an urban slum I hugged an elderly CFCA woman who loved her Church and attended Mass every Sunday to give thanks for her meager home and loving family. On the first Sunday of the trip I spoke at Mass beside one of my children to bring greetings from this land. Outside the capital city we visited a Basilica where ordinary people from the area gathered in the afternoon to receive the Sacrament and the Blessings of the Church.

    And then I came back to the hardness of our local dioceses where Jesus seems to be so remote.

    Yet I remember another culture where Jesus was so alive within those Catholic faithful who regularly received communion that was indeed “grace embodied”. Maybe someday the spirit of Vatican II will return to Kansas City. Meanwhile I have returned to the tolerance of the Episcopal Church for my remaining years but will always be thankful for my brief time as a Catholic. Maybe my kids will see the flame reignited in this land.

  3. spinodressman said

    Sadness is an emotional response that I share with Mr. Humphrey. In addition to “Whom would Christ feed?”, whom are we feeding, how are we sacrament to those who are asked to refrain from joining “us” at the table?

    I am aware that my actions in the past have not reflected the words that I sing on Sunday, “All are welcome in this place…” Reading the editorials in the Kansas City Star, listening to the responses of friends and acquaintances, and Mr. Humphrey’s reflection, have challenged me to examine my “single heart”.

  4. gigigruen said

    This is a beautiful article by Mike Humphrey. But I take a stronger stand than he vis-vis the Archbishop of Kansas City/Fort Leavenworth: Who is to judge the conscience of another person? This is not something Pope Benedict chose to do when he was in the US and not something he says he chooses to do in general. Our Catholic Church teaches us that the moral bottom line is always our informed consciences. Dare we decide that a political leader (or anyone else) does not have an informed conscience?

    I am scandalized that Archbishop Naumann publicly condemned Gov. Sebelius, judging her to be guilty of grievous sin. Gigi Gruenke

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